Airports

When should I really get to the airport? 6 practical holiday travel tips

Thanksgiving and Christmas are two of the nation's busiest travel weeks

 

If you haven’t book your holiday flights yet, do that now, then follow these tips to make your trip a whole lot smoother. This practical travel advice is essential for the holidays-- but it's also useful any time of year

1) When should I get to the airport?

Arrive at the airport at least an hour-and-a-half before your scheduled departure. If your home airport is a teeming mega-complex like JFK, Newark, O’Hare or LAX, it’s probably better to get there two hours early. Make that three for international flights.

Tip: If you’re flying on the holiday itself (Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day), airports likely won't be as crowded. 

Is it really too late to book Thanksgiving airfare?

2) Parking vs. Drop-off

Airport arking is usually a miserable experience during the holidays-- even at the far away, long-term lots. Save time looking for spaces by using public transportation, taxis, Uber or Lyft. In some large cities, prices for a limo service compare favorably to the cost of a cab.

Tip: Swap airport runs with a nearby family member or that nice neighbor; if they can take you to the airport at Thanksgiving, return the favor for their trip at Christmas or New Year’s.

3) Boarding pass prep

You have your boarding pass on the phone? Great, now print it out anyway. Phones lose service (or die) at the most inconvenient times. Do this at the earliest possible moment – at check-in which begins 24 hours before departure – because if you need to select seats or change seats, the sooner you check-in, the better your selection.

Tip: If you’re not a member of PreCheck, you may not have time to join before the holidays but get your application in motion anyway because this faster security experience is a great deal for travel any time of year. Meanwhile, you might get lucky; some folks are still being randomly selected for PreCheck so look at the top left portion of your boarding pass for the phrase, “TSA Pre” or “TSA Prechk” or similar. If you see it, you got it.

4) Brush up on security ‘dos-and-don’ts’

Here’s a partial list of what you can and cannot bring through TSA airport security checkpoints, either in hand or in a carry-on bag.

--Yes: Cakes, pies, cookies, sandwiches.

--No: Jams, jellies, salsas (or other sauce-type items), bottles of wine.

--Maybe? See the TSA app for answers about other goodies, including liquids, tools or just about anything. 

Tip: All food items will need to be X-rayed.

No fly zone: Souvenirs you can't bring back

5) Wear your heaviest stuff

Don’t get stuck paying an extra fee in overweight bag charges. Some airlines charge up to $200 for an over-stuffed bag weighing more than 50 lbs. Wear the heavy stuff including bulky coats and boots, or other shoes, and keep electronics on your person.

Tip: If you wear a coat, you have pockets to stuff with even more items.

6) Don’t forget to bring this!

A list of items to keep with you or in a carry-on: Charger cords, headphones or ear buds, electronics loaded with your favorite entertainment options – or – a book.

Tip: Include a snack or homemade sandwich so you don’t overpay for overpriced airport cuisine. 

Rick Seaney is an airline travel expert and the co-founder of FareCompare.com, an airfare comparison shopping site